Julie Watkins has always been obsessed with elephants, so when she found out that she could volunteer at the Sedgwick County Zoo, she didn’t hesitate.
“He said, ‘If you want to come and shovel poop, you are more than welcome,’ ” Watkins said.
Watkins rushed off to the volunteer office and started helping to shovel out the elephants’ pens. That was in 1999. She now volunteers eight hours a week.
One day while she was volunteering, a zookeeper asked her to come visit the rhinos. Watkins said the experience was amazing.
“I knew nothing about rhinos,” Watkins said. “I knew that they existed, but I didn’t know anything about the animal itself or anything like that.”
Now, the big, leathery, horned animals are like pets to her. She cleans up after them, hand feeds them and even gives them baths.
“The keepers refer to them as my rhinos,” Watkins said.
Watkins said she still helps out with the elephant or other animals when she is needed, and she has learned more than she ever thought she could. She loves being able to share that with others.
“My friends would probably say I bore them to tears about the rhinos or elephants or whatever,” Watkins said.
Watkins’ passion for the animals has driven her to volunteer more than 3,200 hours at the zoo.
“Despite the fact that it is hot and stinky work and bitterly cold in the wintertime, I love it and can’t imagine not doing it,” Watkins said.
Interested in volunteering at the Sedgwick County Zoo? Go to www.scz.org and click on “Volunteer & Job Opportunities.”